I was 21. My first day of class was the next day, and I had put off buying my books until the busiest day of the bookstore’s year. I was in the middle of the line of about one hundred other students when I started to feel sick. It started with nausea and sweaty palms that progressively got worse the closer I made it to the cashier. By the time I got to her, my heart was pounding through my chest, I felt like I was drenched in sweat, and I was praying to God that I neither passed out or threw up.
And she took forever. I swore she was moving in slow motion as she swiped my books, took my card, and stapled my receipts. The entire time, I felt like my hearing was muffled and constant chills ran through my body. When she finally handed me the bag, I yanked it out of her hands without so much as a thank you and all but sprinted out of the bookstore. The whole way to my car, I had to concentrate on my steps, constantly reassuring myself that it wasn’t that far. The closer I got to the car, the less sick I felt. Once in the safety of my car, I felt exhausted but fine.
I didn’t know it was a panic attack at the time. I thought I was sick and in a way I was. After experiencing a lot more nausea, I went to the doctors and got diagnosed with vertigo due to an ear infection. I thought my suffering was over and my prayers answered since I had a cause for the symptoms.
I was wrong.
For months after my ear got better, whenever I’d stand in a line, I’d experience sheer panic. Grocery shopping, getting gas, a 7-11 run, all these things turned into exercises in willpower to just make it through the line without passing out.
It got so bad that my fiancé would do most of the shopping. If I had to do it, I’d come home with red hands from constantly digging my nails into my skin as a painful distraction to center my focus.
And my anxiety morphed over time. It became an issue whenever I was in a place where I perceived there was no easy exit. Sitting in class became a problem because if I wanted to leave, people would notice. Elevators were little pockets of hell littering my life. Being in a car that I wasn’t driving led to hyperventilation and taking sips of water like a mad person in order to keep the items in my stomach where they were. Speaking of water, not having access to water at any point in my day was the holy grail of panic triggers. Somehow water equated not throwing up. My logic: something going in means nothing can come out.
I became borderline agoraphobic. I still went out, but my mind was always preoccupied with checking my body for panic symptoms, assessing exit strategies, worrying about how long I’d feel as normal as I could, and trying to talk myself off the ledge. Going out wasn’t fun anymore.
My unchecked anxiety had morphed into Generalized Anxiety Disorder.